This is part two of our recap blog posts on the 2013 Michigan Transportation Odyssey which took place last week, September 25 – 27. During the Odyssey, a group of Trans4M members traveled from Traverse City to Detroit using only non-motorized and public transportation methods. For part one of the Odyssey, check out #MIOdyssey :: Day One Recap, posted earlier this week. Day two began in Kalamazoo and ended in downtown Detroit. Below is a brief summary of our experiences.
Walking Tour of the Kalamazoo River Valley Trails
Friday morning began with beautiful weather in downtown Kalamazoo. Representatives from Kalamazoo County Parks gave us an informational walking tour of one of their most high-traffic trails in the Kalamazoo River Valley Trails system. Much like the TART Trails system in Traverse City, the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail is highly utilized for transportation needs along with recreational purposes. Not only does it connect residential neighborhoods to business centers within the city, but the trail system also connects Kalamazoo over 30 miles west to South Haven. The walk on the trail was the perfect way to get our blood pumping for the busy day ahead.
Award Presentation at the Kalamazoo Transportation Center
We finished our walking tour at the Kalamazoo Transportation Center downtown where we presented a Trans4Mer award to the Kalamazoo County Parks for their great work in creating a multi-purpose trail connecting a network of rail, buses, bikeways, sidewalks and waterways – the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail. Several people were in attendance at the ceremony including Senator Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Portage) and Representative Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) who showed their support for the Kalamazoo River Valley Trails and increasing multimodal transportation in the community.
Kalamazoo to Ann Arbor via Amtrak
From the Kalamazoo Transportation Center we boarded an Amtrak train toward Ann Arbor. Our experience on the Amtrak was fantastic. Our two Odyssey travelers using wheelchairs were lifted into the train car quickly and easily on a wheelchair lift with help from the friendly Amtrak staff. Our ride was smooth and comfortable and we all took advantage of the outlets and fold out tables to get some work done on the train.
Although our overall trip was very enjoyable, our train was delayed just outside of Ann Arbor and we arrived late to our next destination.
Presentation of Multimodal System and Trans4Mer Award
After we arrived at the Ann Arbor train station, we walked to the Ann Arbor Public Library where we met with representatives from The Ride, GetDowntown, Clean Energy Coalition as well as Representative Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline) and Representative Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) who both shared their support for improving and expanding public transit and non-motorized transportation.
Since we were late arriving in Ann Arbor, we unfortunately had to skip the tour we had planned of Ann Arbor multimodal transportation projects and options. In place of the tour, we had a short presentation from the various organizations who were at the library. We learned about the public transportation expansion projects in the Ann Arbor area, as well as initiatives from GetDowntown to provide options and incentives for both employees and employers to carpool, bike, take the bus or walk to work in downtown Ann Arbor. We also learned about the bike share program project that is underway in Ann Arbor. Trans4M presented a Trans4Mer award to the Clean Energy Coalition, The Ride, The University of Michigan and the City of Ann Arbor for their work on the one of the first and most robust bike share programs in the state. Congratulations and thanks for your great work!
Ann Arbor to Detroit via AirRide, SMART Bus and DDOT Bus
Our last leg of the trip involved riding three different busses from Ann Arbor to Detroit. Our goal was to experience the three public transit services – AirRide, SMART Bus and Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) – and find out how well they connect to one another.
Our AirRide experience was flawless. The bus arrived at the Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor on time, boarded all passengers quickly without problem, and arrived at Detroit Metro Airport on time. The bus even provided complimentary bottled water, wireless internet and outlets for riders.
Our ride on SMART bus 125 was also quite pleasant. It arrived on time and the driver also quickly and easily boarded all passengers. As we rode along the line to our connection to the DDOT bus we were able to meet and talk with other bus passengers. We spoke with them about their experiences and many revealed their frustrations with SMART and DDOT – namely the lack of collaboration between the two. Additionally, many warned us that the DDOT busses were often extremely late and overall unreliable. We plan to connect the stories we heard and contacts we made with our Regional Transit policy team and also relay those messages to legislators in our Odyssey report.
Despite the advice of other bus riders, we got off the SMART Bus at Fort and Outer Drive in Detroit where we crossed the street and waited for DDOT bus 25 which would bring our group to the Rosa Parks Transit Center. The bus stop consisted of just a sign noting the route number and a worn patch of grass along a busy, high speed road, without any system map or timetables. The stop was visibly popular with at least ten others waiting with us. True to the warnings of the other SMART Bus riders, our DDOT bus arrived late by 30 minutes. When the bus arrived, all passengers boarded quickly and easily and we rode a very full bus downtown to finish off our journey.
Model D Speaker Series, Trans4Mer Award Presentation and Odyssey Finale – Broadway Café
From the Rosa Parks Transit Center, our group walked to the Broadway Café for the finale of the Odyssey. Although we only had a few blocks to walk, we encountered many accessibility and general pedestrian barriers: some intersections lacked curb cuts; an SUV was parked on a sidewalk, blocking our path; pedestrian signals at an intersection were completely out of order; and there was construction preventing pedestrians from using the sidewalk in some areas. We arrived at the Broadway Café toward the end of the panel discussion and received a warm welcome from attendees. We also briefed them on our experiences at the end of the evening. For a full account of the Model D Speaker Series check out Model D Speaker Series on Transit Recapped.
Toward the end of the event, we presented our last Trans4Mer Award to the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority for its establishment and progress made this past year and their commitment to regional corporation and diverse partnerships.
Overall Reflection and Suggestions
Just as we did for our day one recap, we want to provide suggestions for our critiques of the system. Overall, our second day went quite smoothly. We didn’t run into any major issues and many of the challenges we faced were those we had anticipated such as minor delays, pedestrian accessibility issues, and poor stop design. Below is a short list of our suggestions of things to work on moving forward:
- Improved cooperation and connectivity between DDOT and SMART and other regional transit agencies
- System maps and time tables at all bus stops which would enable anyone to get anywhere in the system regardless of their knowledge of the system or region, and access to mobile internet – these way-finding features were lacking at the bus stops we visited in Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor and the Detroit Metro Area
- Improved bus stop infrastructure with paved waiting areas, curb cuts, benches and shelters
- Improved pedestrian infrastructure – namely improved ADA compliance
What an amazing and unique experience the 2013 Michigan Transportation Odyssey has been! Thanks so much for following along. Stay tuned for a more in depth report on our experiences from the Odyssey as well as our plans for sharing our experiences with legislators and others.
Written by Liz Treutel, Trans4M Fellow
All pictures courtesy of Gary Howe